Chicken, Beer, And The Boston Red Sox

I’m still quietly recovering from the Red Sox collapse (by which I mean anesthetizing myself with Patriots football), but this devastating analysis of the team’s disintegration reveals some astonishing class politics, and some ridiculous team management policies. And this bit comes after the players throw a temper tantrum about rescheduling a game, to which management responds by buying all the players $300 headphones and giving them a trip on a yacht:

Drinking beer in the Sox clubhouse is permissible. So is ordering take-out chicken and biscuits. Playing video games on one of the clubhouse’s flat-screen televisions is OK, too. But for the Sox pitching trio to do all three during games, rather than show solidarity with their teammates in the dugout, violated an unwritten rule that players support each other, especially in times of crisis.

Sources said Beckett, Lester, and Lackey, who were joined at times by Buchholz, began the practice late in 2010. The pitchers not only continued the routine this year, sources said, but they joined a number of teammates in cutting back on their exercise regimens despite appeals from the team’s strength and conditioning coach Dave Page.

“It’s hard for a guy making $80,000 to tell a $15 million pitcher he needs to get off his butt and do some work,’’ one source said.

For Beckett, Lester, and Lackey, the consequences were apparent as their body fat appeared to increase and pitching skills eroded. When the team needed them in September, they posted a combined 2-7 record with a 6.45 earned run average, the Sox losing 11 of their 15 starts.

First, I’m all for the idea that athletes need some special treatment to do their jobs correctly. Their bodies go through a lot. Massage tubs and sideline oxygen and fancy doctors may seem like luxuries to a lot of folks, but they’re a business investment for teams and they make sense for those of us who want to see these guys on their respective fields of play day after day and week after week.

But you know what? It is not such a terrible hardship to wait until you get home from your amazingly well-compensated job to have a beer, or to treat yourself to some Popeye’s. I’m more ambivalent about the video games — there are such things as rain delays, and I understand that at some point, there just might not be more video you can review, and video games are a decent way to kill time. But letting your stars do things that are actively harmful to their performance while they’re being paid to perform their duties seems pretty epically indulgent. We do, after all, live in a world where teams sometimes run through their entire roster of pitchers and end up with Jose Canseco on the mound. Drinking beer and eating chicken during games is in total violation of the Girl Scout rules about being prepared.

And it’s pretty embarrassing to see these players blow off their strength and conditioning coach. I respect the right of players to seek alternate opinions, especially on medical concerns. As much as I may have been annoyed by Jacoby Ellsbury’s behavior last year, if the guy really thought the alternate medical opinions he was getting gave him a better chance of succeeding in the future, I have to respect that, especially given the season he had this year. But to just straight blow off your strength and conditioning coach, who is, after all, hired to help you do your job better, especially if, as that quote implies, you’re pulling salary rank on him, is pretty disgraceful. I don’t really expect athletes to be classy people, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth pointing it out when they behave badly. I love Fenway, but after this, I’m tempted to shift my ticket money to the team’s affiliates in Pawtucket and Lowell, where the players appear to have some actual investment in succeeding, and there are sumo suit fights in between innings.